Competitive aggrandizement contrary to true spirit of Education


by R. Chandrasoma

The Grade V scholarship examination is not a learning exercise – nor is it a promotion of educational fitness. It is best compared to a lottery or horse race in which thousands participate and the lucky ‘winners’ receive fulsome praise and island-wide publicity thanks to a worked-up media-attention befitting ball-games and horse-races rather than anything pedagogic. True learning is an enhancement of an inner capacity – it has little to do with competitions in which grades and places come before real improvements in individual capacity. Indeed, the best education by far is colleagial –a meeting of minds and alearning together rather than a competition between fellow-beings. It must also be remembered that unlike horse-races where power and muscle count, intellectual achievement is too many-sided and amorphous to be graded in linear order. It must also be remembered that ‘testing’ intelligence by set questions in a given time and place is as error-ridden as estimating the skill of a cook by sampling a randomly chosen dish – there is a huge sampling-error in both cases and to declare X as the winner based on a single outcome is foolish in the extreme. An even greater folly is the concoction of an ‘order of merit’ based on so-called ‘scores’. That which is called ‘Education’ has no simple measure that allows a useful linear ordering – the true substance of education is that which leads to creative work and social cohesion. On these standards we Sri Lankans are notoriously backward. In creative thinking – in the sciences for example – Sri Lanka is at the tail-end of the list of global performers. Our country is singularly deficient in collaborative research - which is perhaps due the pernicious culture of trying to achieve excellence by defeating others – a throwback to the blighted school system that nurtured them as children and young adults.

It can be argued that tests and a grading of some kind are essential when large numbers are ‘schooled’ together with choices made on an assessment of intellectual capacity for further advancement. Such ranking is inevitable but the folly is to suppose that the future ‘flowering’ of the intellect can be reliably assessed by one-shot public examinations in which coaching, parental support and sheer luck play a most important part. It is rightly said that the proof of the pudding is the eating– we have had highly competitive exams for nearly a hundred years but can we honestly say that our intellectuals – the champion ‘cram shots’ – have in anyway made our country among the best in the world? Israel is a very small country but it leads the world in what may be called ‘intellectualism’. To suppose that this achievement is due to superlative schooling is a rank absurdity. The best schools in the world are found in Hong-Kong, Taiwan and Singapore – places that nurture famous cram-shots and imitators but not renowned for intellectual daring and innovation. The lesson to be understood is that intellectual daring is a cultural feature that is only very weakly related to school-learning. The sad truth is that we are notably lacking in this precious asset.

A final point – in our country parents are most anxious to see that their offspring receive a ‘good education’ and this is ‘equated’ with finding a ‘renowned’ school in the city. They are ‘involved’ in the education of their children but miss the main point – their direct role as teachers is neglected and too heavy a burden is placed on schools and teachers. When parents and their offspring learn together – read books and ‘discuss the world’ - very high standards can be reached that formal teaching in schools can hardly match. Alas, in Sri Lanka adults rarely read books and intellectual interaction with their children is mostly unknown. Until this blight is removed, our pupils and their adult descendants will merely follow the herd.

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